The Benefits of Reading Music by Stephanie Edwards

I love exploring the many fascinating benefits of music.

Today I will zero in on one vital skill my piano teachers taught methe ability to read music accurately and fluently.

If you were to ask me about my favorite hobbies, playing piano and reading books would be at the top of my list.  In many ways, these two hobbies are interrelated. Growing up, I loved pulling out random piano books and reading through them. To me, it was just like reading a novel; I met fascinating characters, visited exotic places, learned new things (musical patterns/gestures), and explored different genres.  I didn’t realize that this reading hobby was actually sight-reading practice

Sight-reading practice didn’t just prepare me for music opportunities like gigs, accompanying, and collaborative engagements; it also (unbeknownst to me) augmented my reading ability in general.  Brian Wandell, a Stanford University professor, conducted a study between reading fluency and students’ music education.  He discovered that children who read music fluently also read books and stories more fluently in class.

Reading music is not just a visual exercise!  It involves intellectual, kinesthetic, spatial, auditory, and emotional processes. 

Just think about all that reading music entails! We visually take in the information on the page. Our brain processes the patterns from multiple staffs.  Simultaneously, our fingers play notes, chords, complex rhythms, specific articulations, and dynamics (louds/softs).  Our feet coordinate pedaling.  We do all these things concurrently, and on top of that, we also strive to play musically, with appropriate expression and feeling for that particular piece. 

Phew!  Reading music is a lot more complicated than reading a book!  No wonder Wandell found a significant correlation between music training and reading ability.  The connecting axons between the left and right brain hemispheres (corpus callosum) were “more diffuse in participants who were good readers… [additionally,] musicians who had music training before age seven have larger corpus callosums than do nonmusicians.” [1] In other words, Music education directly helps to develop those areas of the brain that correspond with reading ability and fluency.

A few tips to encourage music reading:

  • Acquire a collection of fun piano books and sheet music.  These should be easier than your student’s lesson repertoire. 
  • Visit Music & Arts or Foxes Music Company with your student.  There are countless pop, Broadway, jazz, and classics books at every level, from early beginner to advanced.
  • Slip in a new piano book at Christmas, birthdays, and other special occasions.
  • If you play piano, play simple duets or sight read with your child every once in a while (one of you plays the right hand and one of you plays the left hand)!
  • Ask your student’s teacher for suggestions if you need help finding age and level-appropriate music.
  • Don’t forget that Amazon has an amazing library of music for you to search and make your own music purchases.  Purchasing additional music that interests your child can be done from your own home and favorite device.  

Best wishes as you continue to encourage and support your pianist.  Thank you for prioritizing music in your family.

Stephanie Edwards

[1] Cole, Katie. “Professional Notes: Brain-Based-Research Music Advocacy.” Music Educators Journal 98, no. 1 (September 2011): 26. MasterFILE Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed March 4, 2016).


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